“The ‘Wonko Institute for the Incurably Sane’ was set up by the named member somewhere in coastal California.

Which is, actually, a lie.

Wonko didn’t set up an Institute. He, instead, chose to withdraw from society.

Which…is a fiction, and the distinction is essential to draw. Wonko lived a very important, if fictive, life.

His position was simple. Any society that needed printed instructions on how to use toothpicks was irrevocably insane.

The birthplace of the Institute was virtual. It was the coincidence of two news articles, seemingly unrelated. The first talked of a massive food shortage that had blighted the planet. Food riots, previously unheard of, were on the rise; the interest in biofuels had sent the price of basic food stuffs rocketing and the sheer cost of producing and moving food added significantly to the burden on the poor. Add to that the weather conditions, mysterious bee death and a seeming lack of concern about the matter, and the picture was very grim indeed.

The second story was an interview with a potential world leader. One of many grey, shapeless old men trying to stand out and appeal to a voter block. He stated that he, literally, believed that the first woman was formed from the rib of the first man. Some took this to mean that he presumed life was seeded her by some advanced alien race that genetically constructed us. Some rubbed their hands in glee that the leader of the free world would take them back to the Dark Ages.

But others despaired.

In a world that was so rapidly changing – so obviously in need of some direction and attention – surely someone should do something.

They were in despair – their ability to form sentences that had any structure was impaired. We can forgive them that.

The Wonko Institute gathers people who share that despair and makes them active. Rather than merely researching alternatives they lobby; they build, grow, and craft things that will make the world a better, more sane, place.”

Dan lowered the cheat-sheet and looked across the table at the three listeners.

“And then there’s the usual website, e-mail addresses etc.” he finished.

There was silence.

Wonko was the first to speak. Wonko the Second.

The line “Wonko the Second was the first to speak” would have been clumsy.

See.

“You don’t think it’s too…chummy? A little light hearted?”

“Well,” Dan reasoned. “You’re called the Wonko Institute for the Incurably Sane. I figured light hearted would be the way to go.”

They all nodded in agreement. “He does have a point, Matt.”

Wonko agreed. “And a very good one, Jules.” Wonko wasn’t his real name.

Obviously.

“Right then, we’ll go with that – get it online. Thank you very much, Dave. We’ll sort you out with whatever you need.”

“Actually, I’d like to join.”

The three stopped. “What?”

“The institute. I want to join.”

The three looked at him, blinking. It was as if none of them had ever thought this would happen.

None of them had, truth be told.

“You want to join?” Echoed Jan.

“The Institute?” Asked the third – whose name, it turned out, was Dave. He drove.

“But why?” Asked Wonko.

“Because you’re right. It is wrong. I’ve read all the sites, I get all the e-mails but I don’t DO anything. I want to do something.”

“Can you cook?” Jan was forever a pragmatist.

“I…can knock something up…I guess.”

“Then you’re on dinner duty. If you want to do something, you can cook tonight. Welcome to the group.”

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Riisa powered her way back to her ship. She had been in a filthy mooRiisa powered her way back to her ship. She had been in a filthy mood when she dove in earlier, and the swim hadn’t improved it at all.

Back in her cabin she dressed, pulling on her favourite pink gown, “Not that it matters. Every year. Always the same,” and stomped on deck where she glowered

Gorgeously, of course.

“Ahem.” There was a timid cough. It was her lousy Bosun. “Begging your pardon, ma’am. It’s just that…there’s a ship off the starboard bow.”

Rissa stomped over to have a look. Maybe a chase and a loot could cheer her up. She shrugged.

“Raise the colo-”

“-um…begging your pardon again, ma’am.”

She hated being interrupted. What was the point of being a princess if you were interrupted all the time.

“What?” she snapped.

“Well…some of the men -”

Oh – she knew what was coming. It was the same every time. Well, not today.

“- are glad they’re not being thrown overboard?” She hissed.

“Oh. No..not exactly ma’am.”

“- wish they were still rotting in a prison cell somewhere?” Her voice was getting louder. The Bosun flinched.

“No, ma’am nothing like th-”

“Then WHAT?” She yelled.

“Well…it’s just…well…they baked you a cake, ma’am.”

She span round.

“A cake?” She was suddenly suspicious. “This isn’t a lie, is it?”

“Oh no, ma’am. Not at all.”

“Well. Where is it?”

The bosun paused. “They hid it.”

“Whheeeeeee!” Rissa squealed. She loved games. Her fingers pointed and flexed as she scampered towards her, now, favourite bosun.

“Where? Where?”

The bosun pointed to the ship in the distance.

“Some of the lads ‘borrowed’ it about a week ago. They’ve been planning it for ages. Some of the crew are here, some over there.”

Riisa ran to the ship’s wheel. “Well, what are we waiting for? Raise the colours!”

“RAISE THE COLOURS,” the bosun shouted.

“Let loose that mainsail!”

“Let loose that mainsail!” The bosun shouted.

The crew cheered as a small, pink flag bearing a skull in a gold crown was hoisted.

“Let’s go get ourselves some cake!

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The rocket thundered through the atmosphere.

“Where’s our promised Gravity Lift,” thought Scott. He and his family were strapped in, gravitational forces pushing down on them, making breathing difficult. The training they had gone through helped, but nothing prepared them for the real thing.

The forces slowly eased and, once he could, he turned to look at his son. It was for him they were taking this trip – relocating to a colony. Give him a start in the new world.

His son looked back, a big grin on his face. “Are we there yet, daddy?”

Scot laughed. “No, Brandon, not yet. Look, that’s Earth, there. We have to go to the moon first. And then we have a long journey.”

Brandon scrambled to the window to look at the receding planet.

Scott turned to smile at his wife. She was sleeping. She did all through basic training. He was amazed how relaxed she was.

The safety harnesses rose as the ship stabilized.

“Dad? Are we there yet?”

“Nono, Brandon. We have to get our ship at the moon.”

“The Moon?”

The Moon was the first hub of Interstellar Transport. Massive passenger carriers, like the one Scott was on, brought people there. Most picked up transports, some their own ships, others transfered out to Mars.

Scott was picking up his colony ship for his journey. These were built for people moving to colony planets. Colony ships stored enough supplies to last the long journey to the colonists new home, but could be converted to a home on arrival. Scott, well it was really, Darla, his wife, chose the Colony Vanguard. Large enough for the family, comfortably supporting two adults and two children – giving them an extra room to play with. All the mod-cons one would expect in a colony ship. Scott liked to call it his Space Winnebago.

The Carrier started to slow for its descent onto Moon-Stat Central.

Brandon squealed excitedly as the harnesses dropped back into place. “Now, Daddy? Now are are there?”

Scott laughed. “Almost,” he chuckled. “You little scamp.”

After they had spent an age clearing customs, quarantine and security Scott hoisted Brandon up and carried him to a view port.

“Look at that, sport. That’s where you used to live. That’s your planet. When I was your age I never thought I’d see this. They say that when you do – everything changes. There’s no countries, or kingdoms. It’s just a beautiful blue, green world where people should just get on.”

Brandon looked out. “But it’s brown, daddy. There’s not much green there.”

Scott held his son up for a little while longer, mainly so he could stare at the planet below. His wife came and put her head on his shoulder, slipping her arm round him.

“It’s still beautiful, Scott.” He turned to kiss her and she saw he had tears in his eyes.

“Oh, Scott. You’re a big softy. Come on, let’s get cleared for an orbit her on our way out.”

Darla held her husbands face and kissed him. “One more look, husband of mine.” She took Brandon and walked into the crowd.

Scott took one final look. “The moon. The mother fucking moon.” He laughed. “God – they were always right,” he muttered to himself, and wandered off to join his wife.

It would take about 8 months to reach the outer rim. There they would rendezvous with a transport that would take them as far as their new system. A lot of that would be in stasis, but there were the regulatory wake up periods.

Then, once in system, they would fly in, another 8 months, to their new home. Planet Lohan.

Scott couldn’t believe it was named that. He almost chose Planet Diana just because of the name, but the news from there seemed a little too interesting for his liking.

Brandon came up to the cockpit as they passed the Martian Hub. “Oh, oh Daddy! Are we there now?”

“Not yet Brandon. We’re going to be here for another eight months.”

“Eight months! That’s forever!” He flopped down into a chair. “I have to go for a pee-pee.”

“You can use the toilet on board, Brandon.”

He ran off. Scott listened for the flush, the door open. “Wash your hands, Brandon.”

The taps ran. Then Brandon did, back to his dad and leapt on his lap.

“Hey there, son.”

“Hey.” Brandon looked out into the starred sky. “Daddy,” he started. “Are we there now?”

It was going to be a long journey.

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by Adam Wiesen
From 50 Years From Now

Rashid sipped tea through a straw, and wryly noted that throughout modern history, most death sentences were at least underwritten by a last meal, usually of some quality. This, his final cup of tea, was a half-sweet compost of earl gray, hydrated with recycled water, probably from crew urine.

‘Hardly fair,’ he sniffed. As a pilot, he was used to pumping out solutions under duress, patching together fortune from disaster. It was his reputation, as such, that got him the gig flying shuttle runs to the International Space Station. Lucky Rashid Mayhew, best pilot in the ESA, gem of the British airforce. Life-taker, heartbreaker, international man of adventure. Woman in every port, enemy in every town—that sort of thing. His life was a roadmap of hair-raising escapes and dogfights. ‘This was supposed to be a cakewalk into retirement. Now look at me.’

From the control center, he looked down at what was supposed to be Earth, and grimaced.

“Won’t be long now,” Amit said clinically. The wiry operations officer, late of the Indian Space Bureau, had a knack for understatement.

“How many days?” Rashid asked.

“If those things keep accelerating, figure hours, not days,” Amit answered.

“That’s impossible,” Walker said. The older astronaut still waited for word from Houston, under some kind of delusion that a command structure waited beneath the miles of weird red matter covering the normally blue planet. “How fast are those things moving?”

Amit checked his dashboard, shrugged. “24 miles per second, and gaining. Rash, do we have any more tea, perchance?”

“That’s just not possible!” Walker balked. “What’s it using for propulsion?”

“I’m afraid this is the last of it. You’re welcome to the rest, if you want.” Rashid said, handing off the plastic cup.

“By all accounts, it’s using its musculature to push up into the atmosphere. At that size, I can’t imagine its much more difficult than your average benchpress, Captain Walker,” Amit said coldly, gulping Rashid’s lukewarm tea. “And once it’s past the troposhere, I imagine it will be even easier. Like popping through a piece of cellophane.”

“How can you be so damned calm?!” Walker demanded. “That’s our people down there! Our countrymen! Our fuh-families! Our…oh God…”

“What else should I do?” Amit asked evenly. “It is done already. The organism has reached the Bering Straits on one side, and Chicago on the other. It has already sunk its roots through the mantle at Hyderabad, at last report. Whatever is not beneath that thing’s skin will be under volcanic ash within a few days, breathing rust and methane. Either way, it is not something we will have to worry about much longer. Those tentacles aren’t just reaching horizontally.”

“What’s the trajectory?” Rashid asked absently.

“It looks like we’re between the first round of tentacles and the Moon. The other ones are en route to Mars. I imagine once it gets around the equator, it will reach out to Venus, maybe Mercury,” Amit said. “You know, this tea is truly awful.”

“I’ll file a complaint,” Rashid said.

“What is wrong with you people?” Walker squealed. “That thing is eating the whole God-damned planet, and we don’t even know what it is!”

“We have no proof it’s actually consuming anything,” Rashid said, taking the cup back from Amit. “And by the last report from Hyderabad, we know exactly what that thing is. It was apparently dormant in sixth-dimensional space before the University punched a hole through it. Hell, the report said they weren’t even sure the thing had physical form in the traditional sense before we bothered it. Some kind of quantum entity. Strictly conceptual, they said. Like a ghost. Then we bollixed it all by looking at it, and gave it form.”

“I don’t believe that,” Walker said, small child’s voice. “Why would we give that thing the form of a, a, a blob? A planet-killer? A fucking monster? Why not Micky Mouse? Or, or, Jesus Christ? Or Buddha?”

Amit chuckled darkly. “All we know is that it did fill all of sixth dimensional space when the University punctured it.”

“And now it’s going to fill all of ours,” Rashid said softly. Drank the last of his tea, stared at the pulsing red globe that had overtaken the roadmap of his life, and watched the snakelike tentacles reach towards them, each the diameter of his beautiful, dead London. ‘Not long now,’ he thought.

And for the first time in his life, savored the wait.

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Monica fell out of The Inferno. It might only have been the hotel’s club, but she was still sweaty from dancing all night. The cold dawn air made her shiver. Still, it wasn’t far to the hotel. She took a deep morning breath and turned her nose up.

” Christ, that’s rancid. What is that? Drains?”

She spotted a couple of stumbling guys coming her way and hurried to up. The last thing she wanted was getting hassled by drunks.

One of them stopped and stared, slack jawed at her.

“What the fuck’s up with you?” She challenged. “Christ, Mon,” She thought. “You’ve got a gob on you.”

The drunk took a step towards her. The step became a run. Monica just managed to register shock at the speed he moved before she was barreled over. The stink was now overpowering. His body cold. Heavy.

On top of her.

She felt his cold hands paw her flesh. Somehow she knew that her body isn’t what they want. Not sexually. The pawing was different. She smelt his breath, felt his teeth at her neck, drool flooding from the open mouth.

She screamed and tried to push him off.

He bit her. Felt the teeth sink into her flesh. The pain was incredible. And the teeth kept going. This was no normal nip. Her body exploded with a unknown fury.

She reached up and dug her fingers into his flesh.

It was putrid.

She gripped its head and pushed, screaming as she felt a chunk of her neck going with it. Something hot and wet pumped against her cheek. Her legs pushed against it’s chest and she threw it off. Monica lept up and ran toward the saftey of the hotel.

She ran, her hands gripping her neck, not understanding why it was wet, what was seeping through her fingers. “The doors. Head for the doors. The doors. Head for the doors.” A mantra, over and over.

But she knew, with cold certainty, it was coming.

Behind her, it stumbled to its feet and started to give chase. A couple of lumbering steps and the moans of others like it brought it to a halt. It sniffed, it’s eyes rotten beyond usefulness, and shambled off in another direction.

Monica threw herself into the hotel’s revolving door. She felt ankle snag and fell forward, cracking her skull against the pane in front. She sobbed, trying to call for help as her world went black.

She was cold when she woke. Turning, she felt crusted blood on her neck. Her hands went to the wound, large and ragged. It had stopped bleeding, at least.

She licked her…her…”Wha waas th erd. Fing Ers.”

She swallowed. Her throat suddenly dry.

“Wha…whas wrong wiv me?”

She was uncontrollably, sucking her fingers clean, taking all the blood off them. Licking under the nails. But it just made her more hungry.

She tried to stand but her foot was stuck in the door. She tried to move it but nothing happened. She couldn’t even feel it. All she felt was a constant, gnawing hunger.

She pulled her leg in and watched in horror as the skin around her foot stretched and tore. Her foot lay outside, the stump not bleeding, her skin blue.

Somewhere deep inside her, all that was left of Monica screamed.

And all that came out was a low moan.

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